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Devaluation and the Inability to Form Emotional Attachments

I’d like to start this post with a passage from the author Jesmyn Ward in Men We Reaped. Here, she talks about how she learned to undervalue herself when her dad left their family:

“I looked at myself and saw a walking embodiment of everything the world around me seemed to despise: an unattractive, poor, Black woman. Undervalued by her family, a perpetual workhouse. Undervalued by society regarding her labor and her beauty. This seed buried itself in my stomach and bore fruit. I hated myself. That seed bloomed in the way I walked, slumped over, eyes on the floor, in the way I didn’t even attempt to dress well, in the way I avoided the world, when I could, through reading, and in the way I took up as little space as possible and tried to attract as little notice as I could, because why should I? I was something to be left.”

Now, I’m not saying that Jesmyn Ward’s dad was a sociopath. All I want to talk about, really, is her last line:

“I was something to be left.”

Because this is a very real and human feeling of devaluation. Some of us experienced it as children. We were left and somehow decided that it must’ve been because we deserved it. Others didn’t feel this kind of loss until we were adults, at which point we encountered complete devaluation.

And we took it in.

Devaluation and Sociopathy

Anyone can devalue another person. What’s unique about sociopathy is that there’s often an agenda behind the process. Planned or unplanned, the results are the same.

You lose sense of your value.

In relatively functional sociopathic relationships, it can come through silence. A complete inability to hear or address your needs. A way of judging you for having needs in the first place. Your needs are ridiculous. If your feelings are hurt, it’s because you’re flawed. If you get angry with this person, it’s because you’re mean. Or because you have a temper. Or because you expect too much. Or because you’re just completely unenjoyable as a human being.

In relationships with people who lack empathy at mild or extreme levels, you will not be able to express your needs in a way that is acceptable. You’ll always be told that you need to find a new way to express your needs if you want them to be met. But you’ll never quite get it right, even if you twist yourself into a pretzel trying. You’ll never feel like it’s really ok to want a warm apology when you’ve been hurt, and you won’t find understanding when you talk about why it matters to you. You might find yourself talking and talking and talking too much as you try to inspire some understanding.

It won’t come.

And you’ll often start to feel lonely. To wonder if you’re selfish, or if you demand too much, or if you think too much of yourself.

So you may try harder to understand your partner. To focus less on your needs and to instead focus on how you could help this unempathetic person feel close to you.

A Person Lacking Empathy to Any Degree Will Not Become Close to You

Not in the ways that can help you experience your value through a relationship.

And feeling our value in relationship is a basic human need. Yes, it’s ideal to know your own value before you even enter into relationship. But considering that we’re born into relationships that either build us up or fail us from the start, there’s something very human about experiencing our value through our interactions with those around us. Wanting to know that we matter. Wanting to know that we matter enough that we won’t be left suddenly and without a trace.

But people do that to each other all the time. They do it to children. They come up with whatever reasons they need for going, and then they go. They leave on birthdays without a departing gift, and then they don’t even think or know to apologize. They can’t empathize with the way their actions are going to impact a child’s sense of value for the rest of his or her life. And if you try to tell them about it, they simply get mad that you’re trying to make them feel bad.

They don’t want you giving them a guilt trip.

And they’re not going to look back. What you’re left with is the sense that you weren’t worth it.

That you were something to be left.

Empathy is the Foundation of Intimacy and Lasting Bonds

Devaluation through abandonment can rock your sense of being. Realizing that the person who left is not going to care and is not going to make the process of leaving feel more acceptable. Realizing that a person you believed in could just walk away on Christmas with a new, more exciting plan. Realizing that you’re not allowed to say, “That really hurt. You shouldn’t have done it like that.” Waking up to the fact that if you do say it, you won’t be heard.

Waking up to the fact that you’ve been in relationship with someone who doesn’t have a full capacity to empathize with how his or her actions impact you.

This person can be nice or mean. Quiet or loud. Proper or crude.

But without a full capacity for empathetic bonding, this person will always be able to walk away.

There are always more exciting places to be in the world, let’s face it. Better ways of living.

And without emotional attachment, empathy, and intimacy, there’s no real reason to stay. There’s no reason to feel like a commitment is an important thing. But there are a million ways to justify why it’s not.

You’re Not Something to be Left

Trying to prove that you’re worthy of a relationship with someone who can’t sustain one is an exercise in despair.

You can spend your whole life in relationships like that.

If you find yourself working daily to inspire your partner to invest in you and the dreams you hope to build together, then you might need to take a step back and consider what investment means. How do you build value? What are the things we value in life? If you value something, you put time and energy into it. You meet needs. You prioritize. You pour yourself in. You daydream and you make real plans, and then you work hard to make those plans happen. You invest yourself fully. You commit to doing this for the long haul, whether it feels fun or not.

And when you do this, you care.

The opposite is to live on the outskirts. Whether through defiance or sluggishness or deflection or withdrawal. Instead of sharing, you self-protect. Instead of getting excited about another person’s experience, you watch silently or even work to deflate it. Maybe you smile and secretly sabotage. The results are all the same.

These destructive tendencies may or may not be directly linked to sociopathy. But there’s some common thread when it comes to human empathy, emotional attachment, commitments that last, and a cultivated sense of self-worth.

For those who do not have those capacities, life may be lonely. For those who love them, life may hurt. But the thing to remember, in the end, is that it’s not about whether you’re good enough to be loved or not.

Their ability to leave so easily is about them.

Because we all have some things we could work on. But who you are is enough. For love, care, and commitment.

Jesmyn Ward is a famous author. She’s beautiful, insightful, and incredibly talented. She has clear value. But there were times in her life when she couldn’t see it. When she hated herself because her dad left.

Our attachments impact us deeply. But even when we doubt our own value, it’s there.

We just have to work to see it. Recover it. Cherish it. And spend time with people who know its worth. Who have the capacity for empathetic attachments. And who know how to commit.

 



9 Comments on "Devaluation and the Inability to Form Emotional Attachments"

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  1. HG Beverly -thank you so much for your insight. It is so important to understand that a relationship with someone who lacks empathy will always be one-sided.

    It’s also crucial that we have empathy for ourselves.



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  2. Imara says:

    So eloquently written and so very true!!! Thank You!!!
    There are so many big important life lessons we need to learn and developing self care, self worth, and self respect may be the most important ones!!!! Empathy for self?? Yes crucial!!!



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  3. Bets says:

    Thank you HGBeverly! So much of my struggle in counseling was to learn to value myself. I was the product of a narcissist mother to whom I was the child she had to have to get to the desired son. I spent a lifetime with her trying to make myself matter to her – which was something that only happened when others were watching so it was never real. I then married a sociopath to whom I was a possession to be used and abused which he did with abandon.

    What value I found in my life began when I had my children. My self value had to be nurtured through years of therapy. When I began therapy, I could not look at myself in a mirror and say to myself, “I am a person of great worth and value.” I would throw up trying to say it. How messed up is that? Years later, I am a person of great worth and value and I mean it.

    “We just have to work to see it. Recover it. Cherish it. And spend time with people who know its worth. Who have the capacity for empathetic attachments. And who know how to commit.” Truer words are hard to come by which is why I keep coming back to this site. Thank you!!



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  4. HopingToHeal says:

    HG,
    What a beautiful message of inspiration and understanding to those of us who have been devalued. You describe the exact feelings and emotionally repercussion of being attached to someone with lack of empathy. It really is a life that leads to destruction of the one being devalued.

    I am working on my recovery, but as I do, I worry so much about my daughter who has experienced the same degradation and devaluing. She is a precious person who, because of her Spath father has been left to sort through and deal with being left. And she does feel like she was not worth staying for. He left the marriage, but he has also left her. I pray for god to heal her heart and renew her self worth. I know He has great plans for her.

    Thank you so much for your thoughts and direction. They are very helpful and stated in such a lovely way.



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  5. HGBeverly says:

    Hello, all,

    I’m so glad to hear that my post is inspiring and helpful. In my own process of recovery, I’m working really hard to be more consistently empathetic with myself. Instead of getting pulled in to self-blame or wondering why I wasn’t enough to inspire this other person to step off the emotional sidelines and really invest. Intellectually, I know that’s impossible in ways that have nothing to do with me—regardless of how good or bad I am as a partner. But emotionally, it hurts. That’s where the empathy comes in. And care.

    It helps me to write about it and connect with others who are on similar journeys. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I wish you all the best as you move into healthier relationships with your selves and others.

    Best,

    H.G.



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  6. aintgonnatakeitnomore says:

    Realizing that you’re not allowed to say, “That really hurt. You shouldn’t have done it like that.” Waking up to the fact that if you do say it, you won’t be heard.
    Waking up to the fact that you’ve been in relationship with someone who doesn’t have a full capacity to empathize with how his or her actions impact you.
    BINGO
    thru all sorts of SPTs, you’re not allowed to be hurt. “Ive said I was sorry, damn’t(now that i want something)!!! That should be enough!!”
    “Don’t beat a dead horse.”
    REALLY??
    sick psycho with his agenda of keeping ego safe. EGO EGO EGO
    that’s all that matters to them.



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  7. 4mydaughter says:

    I’ve watched my daughter go through this all during her marriage, and now again as she deals with the divorce from her sociopath/narcissist.
    Because the sociopath/narcissist is so good at hiding their true nature, I did not initially understand what was having such a negative impact upon my daughter’s personality.
    Her husband’s true nature was revealed when he began an affair with a woman who is also a sociopath/narcissist.
    Because sociopaths believe that rules don’t apply to them, and that they can talk their way out of anything, they attempted to ruin my daughter with false allegations.
    Now that my daughter is finally realizing the depths of abuse and degradation that had just become part of her day-to-day life, she will never again allow herself to be in such a controlling relationship.
    Sadly, even as they divorce, her sociopath/narcissist continues to try to find ways to control her through their children. We know it will be a long haul.
    We know the children will require therapy. But even now, we are not sure how the judge will rule—as the legal system has not “caught up” with the true nature of the sociopathic/narcissistic personality disorder.
    At times, we all feel very helpless.



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  8. Barb says:

    It must be a miracle…I had just thought deeply about what this author wrote (devaluation, being ‘left’ and ‘making oneself small’). Not joining anything. Never speaking up. Hiding (for years in my teens and well into my twenties in my bedroom at home). Being blamed for what others did to me *being bullied). Suffering from comments made to me when I hadn’t done a thing to deserve it. I remember when I could not even get gas in our town without hearing the attendant’s comments, “What are you doing out of the house? You…the Lone Ranger.” If I had known my mother was behind a lot of this I would have attacked her. Strong as she was I would have gotten the best of her with words alone.
    My attitude towards myself was not the result of just her alone; others in the family (father as well) picked up on my role as scapegoat and ‘carried it out’. My soul and psyche were damaged.
    But I am not dead yet. And I am finding my voice more and more.
    Standing up to a monster of an older sister will be difficult but not impossible.
    Re: the gas station. Earl (a good friend of my parents) owned this station and he repelled me with his comments…(a very ignorant man). I started getting gas at another station across the street from him just to ‘get back at him’. Hey…I was a kid. Did not mean to hurt him.



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  9. blossom4th says:

    I was that girl who walked looking down at her shoes and the street until I was 18 yrs old.I had always felt devalued as a little girl.Molested by my grandfather at the tender age of 6 yrs.Turned down as a playmate by my older brothers friends.Later,as I became more concerned about my appearance;I felt ‘uglier’ than my younger sisters.But when I turned 18,I made a concentrated attempt at overcoming my ‘shyness’ and ‘making the best of my attributes’.So I chose to be the understanding,kind & compassionate one…..uhhuh…perfect target…like saying come & get me!Yep…stayed with him most of the 28 yrs,trying to make it work! I think more than anything I feared being alone….until it almost killed me…body & spirit.



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